Henry Davis, C, Louisville
Hit: 50/55 Power: 55/60 Run: 40/45 Field: 50/55 Arm: 70 Overall: 60
In 2018, as a high school senior, Davis was already considered one of, if not the, hardest throwing catchers in the draft. There were some concerns about Davis ability as a receiver, and his somewhat long swing led some to question his ability to make consistent enough contact to be a quality hitter. These concerns led to Davis going undrafted in 2018. The result is, Louisville wound up with yet another first-round catcher on their team. The last one was Will Smith, who went 32nd overall in 2016. Davis looks to do far better than that, as he still has a fair chance to be the first overall pick in this draft. So, let’s have a look at the player which The Athletic ranked as the number one prospect in the 2021 draft less than three weeks ago.
At the Plate
When you hear announcers talking about a hitter swinging with bad intent, they are talking about the kind of swing Davis employs. Davis is a right-handed hitter who employs a wide, balanced leg base with moderate kick. His hip shoulder separation is nothing terribly special, being average at best. This doesn’t particularly come into play quite as much though, as he generates a ton of torque when he loads up through his step toward the pitcher. He also swings a violent bat, aggressively attacking pitches in the zone, always looking to do maximum damage. Davis generates power to all fields and, when he is on, does a good job of staying back on the ball. At his best, he is short to the ball and shows excellent barrel control with quick torso rotation.
On the minus side, Davis load and swing require him to have excellent timing. Once he commits, he’s committed. This is where using his lower half instead of hip separation to generate power can sometimes bite him. If he gets that foot down early, he’s going to be way out in front. This has made him somewhat susceptible to breaking pitches away. Likewise, if he gets that foot down late, he can be beat by heat up and in. That said, his barrel control has continued to work in his favour, keeping either of those holes from causing him many issues. He will at times get a bit long in the swing when he is trying to turn on a pitch to muscle one into the stands. He doesn’t need to do this. He has plenty of power to all fields. This is likely something that will be worked on more once he sees regular coaching in the minors.
As far as zone control, Davis has good zone awareness and is more than capable of drawing his walks. His barrel control gives him good vertical coverage of the plate. Despite the timing approach to his swing, Davis is a difficult strikeout. In his freshman year as a Cardinal, he struck out in only 12% of his at-bats. In the shortened 2020 season, he struck out only four times in 52 at-bats, adding in eight walks to that stat line. Through mid-May of this season, Davis is slashing an impressive .389/.511/.671 with 11 home runs, 43 RBIs, and nine doubles. He has struck out a mere 18 times while walking 29 times.
Davis hits the ball hard. I know, that doesn’t tell much, but it is the best place to start. With every swing, Davis is looking to punish the ball, and he does so with good frequency. Davis crushes baseballs with impunity. His max exit velocity in 2020 was 109.7 mph. That places him in the 95th percentile for college hitters while his average exit velocity of 92.7 mph places him the the 90th. To put that in perspective, only two hitters taken in the first two rounds of the 2020 draft ranked higher, Aaron Sabato and 1-1 pick, Spencer Torkelson (himself known for terrorizing the bejeezus out of baseballs).
Davis’ ability to tap into his power in games is one area in which he has shown improvement. He will need to continue this trend if he is going to be hitting advanced pitching into the seats at the highest level. Davis’ swing is not built for loft. This has resulted in more grounders and line drives than one normally wishes to see out of such a hard hitter. With Davis’ raw power, this is the sort of thing that is fixable with small tweaks and should not result in needing to wholly re-work Davis’ swing.
In the Field
The concerns that existed when Davis was coming out of high school about his ability to stick behind the plate can be put to bed. He has shown massive improvement in this regard, making himself into an above average defensive backstop. Davis continues to show some difficulties with receiving, especially with regard to top tier stuff. However, he has shown steady, consistent improvement. It should also be noted that, catching for the Cardinals in the ACC, Davis has caught a good deal of very high talent, including first found draft picks Reid Detmers and Bobby Miller.
Davis has great athleticism behind the plate and gets down on pitches in the dirt, while showing he has good horizontal movement which enables him to stay in front of the nastiest breaking stuff. He is a very engaged catcher, often coaching his battery mates from behind the plate. When he is behind the plate, he is controlling the game. He is adept at handling a pitching staff and calls a good game. He will need to continue to work on his receiving and his framing, but these are tools that come with time and experience. With the massive improvements he has already made, there is little to suggest he cannot make even more.
Davis’s arm isn’t so much just an arm as it is a cybernetic canon attached to his right shoulder. Davis has a fire hose for an arm behind the plate. This cannon, combined with his consistently sub 2.00 second pop times (1.93 best time) makes Davis a master of controlling the run game. So far this season, Davis has gunned down 11 of 20 would-be base stealers. Davis is one of those catchers who is able to easily make throws from his knees. He does sometimes have issues with throwing a bit wide of the bag at second, but it has not been a consistent issue. This is something easily correctable through more reps.
Davis is not going to win many foot races. With his power, he doesn’t really need to. That said, Davis is no base clogger either. In fact, he has some sneaky speed. He’s also very intelligent on the base paths. In fact, on mid-May, he led the ACC with nine stolen bases. Home to first, Davis clocks in at a respectable 4.4 seconds. This is fringe average speed. However, Davis is a smart runner, picking his spots to take a free base and also knowing when he can take an extra base on hits to the outfield. He isn’t going to be turning many singles into doubles, but he also isn’t going to be committing TOOTBLAN malfeasance.
Henry Davis is a sure-fire catcher defensively with an above average bat and plus power. He controls the running game as well as anyone and gets the most out of his strong athleticism. Davis’ advanced plate discipline and his raw power make him a 25 HR threat and a heart-of-the-order hitter. While it is probably unfair to tag Davis as being Buster Posey-lite, it is fair to say that Davis belongs in the Posey tier of catching.
No player has seen a stronger rise in the uppermost tier of the draft than Davis. While some of this may be due to the small stumbles that Leiter and Rocker experienced, the majority of Davis’ helium has come entirely from him outclassing most of the rest of college baseball. He is the clear-cut best collegiate bat in the draft (and likely best overall), hitting for both average and power. His excellent plate discipline serves him well, protecting him from falling into any sort of slump. Defensively, he controls both pitching staffs and the running game with the best of them. He is an above average defender, though his receiving skills will need more polishing.
In many drafts, Davis would be an easy consensus 1-1 pick. Given the way things have been shaping up over the last four weeks, Davis could still see himself in that position by the time July 11th rolls around. It is difficult to imagine a reasonable scenario in which Davis falls to Arizona at number six. At the same time, with Leiter and Lawlar still expected to fill two of the top three slots, not much else has to happen for Arizona to benefit and see Davis still on the board when they pick.
Scouting video from 19-21 March 2021:
Henry Davis is the best college bat in the draft and is going to stick at a catcher as an above average defensive presence. He projects to be a front-line starter hitting in the middle of a Major League lineup in the next three years or so. The chances of him being available at number six are awfully damn small, but stranger things have been known to happen on draft day.
Chances Davis is available at #6: <10%
Chances Arizona takes Davis if he is available: 99%
Up next: Draft strategies and final thoughts